Vintage connect: Buttering up consumers with dollops of nostalgia

Rutam Vora | Updated on February 07, 2021

Why dairy giant Amul turned to its old ads during the lockdown

It may seem utterly butterly baffling — a brand choosing to run 181 TV commercials on Doordarshan during the peak of lockdown. And, that too, mostly nostalgic old ads from the 1980s!

Last year, as the nation went into a Covid-19-induced shutdown, going against the grain, Amul chose to advertise heavily. It unleashed vintage TV commercials, created some 1,500 hours of online content and kept conversations going through numerous ‘topicals’ in print and digital media.

Amul’s ad and media plan during the pandemic is a classic recipe in brand building.

As the man behind Amul’s topical ads, Rahul daCunha of daCunha Communications, explains, “Amul knew that because people were at home, and there was not much else to do, that was the time to get their attention. Advertising is not only about buying. Advertising and marketing is about presence, about making people aware of the brand.” He says with people locked indoors, there should have been much more advertising by brands, as they had a captive audience.

Spreading it thick

As for choosing Doordarshan, with the public broadcaster deciding to re-telecast Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayana series and BR Chopra’s Mahabharata series during the lockdown, Amul spotted a jackpot.

“We asked our agency to work out a commercial deal with Doordarshan. In a day, we got 600 seconds in four slots. We started running multiple ads. Later, looking at the way people slipped into nostalgia, we started running our old Amul ads of the 1980s across all slots,” says Jayen Mehta, Senior General Manager (Planning and Marketing), Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd — which owns brand Amul.

It was a good call. “Ramayana set the record of highest viewership, topping even the IPL,” says Mehta.

Meanwhile, on its Facebook page, Amul got celebrated chefs from India and abroad to do cooking demonstrations. “It became a mode of communication with chefs to discuss variations in the recipe and, thus, online conversations began. People were sitting at home and they needed such external interactions. A community started building up,” says Mehta. An average of 70-80 lakh people have been interacting with us daily for the past 300 days,” he adds.

Amul did 8-12 shows a day in languages including Tamil and Arabic, and now it stands with a Facebook reach of over 140 crore across 40 countries, including Brazil and Latin America — nations where it had no physical presence.

Via Facebook, Amul created nearly one lakh minutes of cooking content, which is about 1,500 hours, in eight months of 2020. This was phenomenal when compared with Netflix, which launched about 2,700 hours of content on its platform spending over $15 billion. “This is the component of Amul’s frugal marketing concept,” Mehta says.

Unlike other private sector dairy and FMCG companies that earmark 5-12 per cent of their turnover on advertising, Amul’s ad spends never exceed one per cent of its turnover. Admittedly, at a turnover of ₹38,542 crore (FY 20), it’s no mean sum.

As events turned out, the media buys came handy, for Amul launched 60 new products during the lockdown and unlock period. These were in categories ranging from flavoured milk to sweets, ice cream, chocolates, snacks, edible oils, and a range of carbonated beverages.

It could showcase the range in a concentrated manner across the media slots it had pre-booked. “Customer acquisition is no cost to us, purely because of the power of the content. So all maths, economics and social science fit well for us during the lockdown,” says Mehta.

The media plan is simple but effective. Its topicals are not only splashed on 100 hoardings across India, but also carried in over 30 daily newspapers having a combined circulation of over 3 crore copies, getting readership of 10 crore people. It has also enhanced its digital presence from about one ‘topical’ (featuring the iconic polka-dotted Amul girl) to three topicals a week on social media platforms.

Anuj Kapoor, Assistant Professor – Marketing at Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, says social media platforms are becoming crowded and you need to differentiate if you want to get noticed. He says Amul did it by striking a communication with its potential and existing consumers.

Kapoor, however, cautions about social media. “Engagement makes sense, but attribution is a problem, as how would you know if it is getting converted into sales? Secondly, there is always a privacy paradox attached to social media,” he says. Hopefully, Amul knows which side is worth buttering!

Published on February 07, 2021

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